One year after breaking the bank to buy a championship, the Detroit Tigers opted to spend very little in the 2009 offseason. They didn't send any top prospects to any teams for a proven star, but instead made a few low-cost moves to address a couple of positions.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera reigns supreme after coming over in 2008 with Dontrelle Willis for a bevy of prospects. His batting statistics more than make up for the young slugger's lack of defensive skills, though they should be improved after his first year at first base.
Second Base: Placido Polanco remains a Detroit Tigers fixture. The star found himself with 34 hits and a lower run total than 2007, but defensively, Polanco remains one of the American League's best at second base.
Shortstop: In 2008, the Tigers traded top prospects for Edgar Rentería, who was in the final year of a contract. Rentería saw his batting average plummet from .332 to .270, 20 full points below his career average. Rentería also struggled in the field after being one of the MLB's best defensive shortstops for years.
How did the Tigers replace this high-profile SS? They went out and signed former Astro and Twin Adam Everett. Everett has only played in 114 games in the last two years. His offensive numbers are dismal. But, the Tigers claim that his defense will make up for the shortcomings at the plate.
Third Base: Fan favorite and utility man Brandon Inge. One criticism of Inge's game is his inconsistency at the plate. It could be argued that his inconsistency was caused by his lack of playing time, which only went up when Ivan Rodriguez—who some saw as the heart of the team—was traded to the Yankees.
Left Field: Carlos Guillen will be seen in the outfield this summer. One of the Tigers' more consistent stars, Guillen found himself out of a job at first and short last year with the additions of Rentería and Cabrera. Even after the acquisition of Everett, it is still believed that Guillen will be a fixture in the outfield.
Center Field: Curtis Granderson will remain the star. Like most of the Tigers from the 2007 team, Curtis saw his numbers decline in 2008, but his defense remained outstanding. Granderson is slowly turning into one the MLB's elite center fielders.
Right Field: Magglio Ordóñez the fan favorite. His statistics fell in home runs, RBI, runs scored, and batting average. The largest loss was his batting average, which fell 46 points down to .317. That said, .317 is still a very good place to be, and he will remain a bonafide star, even though is contract is in its last year.
Catcher: After future Hall-of-Famer Ivan Rodriguez left the Tigers, Inge took over as the catcher and Dane Sardinha was his backup.
The team this offseason has acquired Gerald Laird from the Texas Rangers and former Marlins catcher Matt Treanor. Also, figuring into the catching scene is 2008 September callup Dusty Ryan.
Designated Hitter: Gary Sheffield will have this job again as long as he remains healthy and producing. The Tigers often-injured starter has 499 career home runs. Marcus Thames will be the backup in RF as well as Sheffield's backup at DH.
Made up of these players through out the year: Corner infielder and power hitter Mike Hessman, an All-Star in AAA with the Mudhens; Mike Hollimon, Ryan Raburn, and infielder extraordinaire Ramon Santiago. Santiago will make the team for certain to start the season.
The outfield reserves include Brent Clevlen, Raburn, Clete Thomas, and Thames. The only one of these players to make the team for sure will be Thames and his big bat. Young OF Matt Joyce was traded.
As for pitching, former Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander is back as the top starter. Last year was his worst season statistically, as his mark of 11-17 was a clear departure from his stellar 35-15 record the two prior seasons combined. His ERA was even up a full run per game. It is believed that Verlander will return to his old form this year.
One of the few bright spots in Detroit last year was acquired SP Armando Galarraga. Galarraga posted a 13-7 record with an ERA of 3.73. He also posted a 2-1 strikeout ratio (126 to 61). The Tigers plan on him being in the rotation for years to come. Another one of Dombrowski's wonder moves.
After missing nearly all of 2008 due to a circulatory problem, Jeremy Bonderman appears to be injured again. He recently had a shoulder examination, but it appears that his shoulder is merely stiff and he should return to the rotation quickly. Another solid year from Bonderman and the pressure on Verlander's shoulders won't be as strenuous.
One Tigers SP who has to rebound after a terrible 2008 season is the inconsistent Nate Robertson. Robertson posted a 6-11 record with a 6.35 ERA. Clearly, these numbers are not acceptable for an SP on a team that is supposed to be in the championship mix. If Robertson's pitching woes continue, I fully expect him to find his way to the bullpen as the Tigers second left-handed RP.
Dontrelle Willis missed nearly all of last year with mechanical problems. He spent most of the year in Florida working with the Tigers pitching coaches to work out his kinks. It is not clear whether or not Willis will be back to his old form. However, reports from Lakeland suggest that he is on the brink of returning to the starting rotation, which would add the LHP that is needed with the departure of Kenny Rogers.
With Rogers retiring in the winter, the Tigers went out and traded Joyce for Tampa's Edwin Jackson. It is not clear whether Jackson will crack the starting rotation, but the injury to Bonderman has opened a door to Jackson's future in the Motor City.
Relief pitchers were also a visible problem and the Tigers addressed this by signing closer Brandon Lyon. It is believed that Lyon will be competing with the inconsistent Fernando Rodney to be the closer. Joel Zumaya and his 100 mph fastball also are a closing weapon if he can remain healthy.
The rest of the Tigers' bullpen is made up of LHPs Bobby Seay and Macay McBride and right-handed pitchers Freddy Dolsi and Clay Rapada. The only other notable reliever is Zach Miner. Miner is the Tigers' long reliever and a spot starter. The Tigers didn't do enough to address their pen this offseason.
2009 Outlook: Don't expect another 2006 team. But, I would't expect another 2008 squad either. Look for the Tigers to be better in the field, for the batters to rebound at the plate, and Verlander to bounce back. But don't expect the bullpen to be stellar.
A successful season this year would be if the Tigers make .500 or better. I believe an 81-win season is a little too hopeful.